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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 38

A Psalm of David, to bring to remembrance.

Among the Penitential Psalms this is the third, (see on Psalms 6:0,) and is unsurpassed in the depth and tenderness of its spirit, and the vivid portraiture of the author’s sufferings. David is now prostrate with a malignant and loathsome disease; and, as his life is imperilled, his enemies are emboldened to circulate slanders, and secretly devise measures against him. Closely they watch the progress of his malady, and cautiously advance their secret plots. His affliction, meanwhile, is received by him as a judgment of God for his sins, and he meekly submits. His sins did not lie against his enemies, and they had no personal cause for their enmity. In relation to them he was innocent, but in relation to God he had sinned, and his sufferings were a public expression of the divine displeasure against sin, for the warning of others as well as of David himself against the recurrence of such offences, though personally he now stood atoned and forgiven. We must, therefore, assign the psalm to the period subsequent to David’s fall, after his forgiveness, and during the series of divine judgments which were visited upon his person, his house, and his kingdom. See 2 Samuel 12:10-14.Verses 1-8 are mainly a description of the physical force and symptoms of his complaint; Psalms 38:9-15 relate chiefly to the effect produced on friends and enemies by his sickness, and of his own conduct in relation to the latter; Psalms 38:16-22 are a profession of trust in God, of penitence, with glances at his enemies, concluding with earnest prayer.


To bring to remembrance The same occurs in title of Psalms 70:0, which see. The word is here to be taken in its memorialistic or historical sense, of to cause to remember; that is, to record, in order to call to mind, or to preserve the memory of past events, showing that it is a real experience of the author, and not an ideal picture. The same word is used of the office of a public historiographer, whose duty it is to record events, that their memorial should not perish, (2 Samuel 20:24; Isaiah 36:3; Isaiah 36:22,) or of a chronicler of the sacred archives. 1 Chronicles 16:4

Verse 1

1. Rebuke me not in thy wrath The psalm opens with the words of Psalms 6:1. David trembles lest the chastisement should pass over to the severity of condign punishment.

Verse 2

2. Arrows See Job 6:4. The arrows sticking fast, are a proof that they had entered deep into the flesh.

Verse 3

3. Neither… rest in my bones The depth of the wounds had disturbed the solid frame-work of the man.

Because of my sin This is the office of all corrective visitation to call to mind the fact and horrible turpitude of sin. It was God’s arrows God’s hard pressing hand, his anger which troubled him.

Verse 4

4. Iniquities are gone over mine head The figure is that of sinking into deep waters. The complaint of the second part of this verse is an echo of Genesis 4:13. See Ezra 9:6. Whether we take עון ( iniquity) in the sense of guiltiness or punishment, it is insupportable, overwhelming.

Verse 5

5. Wounds The description is that of a suppurated running sore, of offensive odour, and should here be understood literally.

Verse 6

6. I am troubled Literally, I was bent, or writhed.

I am bowed down greatly The writhing pains of his body caused him to bend together, and this was in sympathy with his dejected soul.

Verse 7

7. This, with Psalms 38:3, must be taken literally, as should Job 7:5, not as a figure for great suffering. The participle translated loathsome disease properly means dryness, and hence a burning heat, or inflammation, which causes exhaustion of the fluids. Perhaps the true idea is burning boils.

Loins are referred to as the seat of strength, and the word is used as an emblem of strength, and ground of reliance. The strong muscles about the kidneys and lumbar region, being also the depository of fatty substance, (see Leviticus 3:4; Leviticus 3:10; Leviticus 3:15; Job 15:27, where it is translated flanks,) are here represented as shrunken and dried up by heat.

Verse 8

8. Feeble The word means torpid, cold, without vital warmth. A natural reaction from the fever-heat of Psalms 38:7.

Broken Crushed. Here taken morally for a “ broken heart,” Psalms 51:19.

Roared… disquietness Two words used in allusion to the habits of the lion, bearing the same relation to each other as growling and roaring. The meaning is, the low moaning of his heart had caused the loud wailing of his lips. Hitherto, in pouring out the bitterness of his complaint, David speaks only of himself, especially his physical sufferings, making no allusion to his enemies. Thrice he lays down the moral cause of his sufferings, “Because of thine anger,” “Because of my sin,” “Because of my foolishness.” Vers. 3, 5

Verse 9

9. In a subdued tone the psalmist now proceeds to speak (9-15) of his trust in God, and of the effect which his affliction had wrought on friends and enemies.

All my desire is before thee He had laid his cause before God for moral and judicial judgment, and rested it there.

Verse 10

10. My heart panteth Palpitates violently, as in high fever-heat.

Light of mine eyes… is gone The failing of sight by the force of sorrow and by exhaustion is complained of by Job 17:7. In this extremity David commits his cause to God only.

Verse 11

11. Lovers… friends… kinsmen The enumeration covers close friends, companions; neighbours or associates; and kinsmen. These did not come near him, but stood “from before him,” “far off and round about.” See Psalms 31:11; Job 19:13-14

Verse 12

12. They… that seek… my life This is David’s first allusion to his enemies.

Speak… imagine They circulated evil reports and meditated secretly concocted evil designs against the government. See 2 Samuel 14:25-33; 2 Samuel 15:1-6; Psalms 41:5-9. The fact that David’s sickness was considered as a judgment of God, and an evidence that God had forsaken him, gave them boldness and their slanders plausibility.

Verse 13

13. I, as a deaf man, heard not His silence arose from a deep consciousness that the judgment was of God, on account of sin, and a firm belief that it could not proceed beyond the divine purpose.

Verse 14

14. No reproofs The term is judicial, as in Job 23:4, and signifies defence, justification. It is here plural: “I was as a man in whose mouth are no justifications,” no grounds or arguments of defence. Comp. Psalms 39:9. Thus when God judges, “every mouth shall be stopped.” Romans 3:19

Verse 15

15. Thou wilt hear The psalmist was silent towards men, because his cause did not lie between him and them, but he appeals to God, who will “hear” rather, answer, as the word properly means, and in this place imports a judicial answer, a vindication.

Verse 16

16. Lest… they should rejoice over me This is urged as the reason for the divine interference; or, if this verse should be made to connect with Psalms 38:14, it would be the reason for David’s silence before his enemies, as in Psalms 39:1-2. The reader will understand that the sentence is elliptical, the words “hear me” and “otherwise” being supplied by the translators.

Verse 17

17. I am ready to halt The idea is, literally, My fall is certain; that is, humanly speaking, nothing is left for me but inevitable ruin, or help from God.

Verse 18

18. Another sad recurrence to, and confession of, the moral cause of all his sufferings.

Verse 19

19. Mine enemies are lively… strong “Lively” seems to be used in the sense of full of life, as opposed to David’s condition of exhaustion and infirmity. “Strong” may refer to their public influence, or to their numbers, or both.

Verse 20

20. Render evil for good This, as well as wrongfully, in Psalms 38:19, defines their character, (see Psalms 35:12,) and shows that David’s sin did not lie against his subjects, beyond the moral influence of example, but against God. To his enemies he had been a faithful king and liberal patron.

Because I follow… good This he speaks as a king towards his people. He had sought their good, and religiously he had developed the highest idea of the theocracy. The highly religious character of his government was, indeed, a secret cause of their disaffection. The two closing verses are an earnest prayer for instant help.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 38". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.